Town of Lyons Pandemic Story
I’m regularly asked, “Which was more difficult to manage, the 2013 Flood or the 2020 Pandemic?” The answer is “Both of them.” It does not seem comprehensible that our small, somewhat insulated community would suffer a federal level natural disaster followed by a worldwide pandemic within a few years of each other. But as we have all learned, life is unpredictable, and we are resilient.
Like most years, 2020 began with a fresh outlook, updated goals and priorities, and a new budget. However, it quickly changed with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in late January. Priorities shifted as information was being released from numerous sources including: World Health Organization, The Center for Disease Control, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Boulder County Public Health as well as reporting by local and national media outlets and experts communicating the latest data and forecasts.
Town staff were constantly maneuvering to adjust to ever-changing information and public health orders while trying to communicate the most up-to-date information to Town residents and visitors. The unknown risk and remedies were compounded by the recommendations to close town hall, have staff work remotely, as well as conduct no in-person meetings of the Board of Trustees, or Town boards and committees.
Despite this challenge, a general election was held in April 2020 by mail-in ballot only. Elections are held every two years on even years in Lyons. For this election, voter turnout was at 92 percent of all active voters – an unprecedented participation rate. The election resulted in a new mayor and three new trustees. Orientation and training of the new trustees were held virtually. Of note, this Board of Trustees has never met in person since being seated – a first for the Town of Lyons.
The U.S. Census also occurred in 2020. Due to the pandemic, there was no door-to-door interviews; instead, most information was gathered electronically. Lyons had a fairly high participation rate, around 75 percent. Although the final numbers have not been released, the current population is approximately 2,047 residents. There are significantly more that live in the 80540 zip code, residing in unincorporated Boulder and Larimer Counties, but who consider Lyons their home.
Small businesses, which make up 99 percent of Lyons businesses, were significantly impacted by the pandemic. Significant revenue losses and closures were anticipated due to the loss of customers because of the State and County COVID-19 health orders.
In anticipation of a major loss in sales tax revenue and parks revenue (parking, camping), Town staff reworked the budget. One unexpected result of the pandemic restrictions was a major shift in on-line purchasing; and the generation of local sales tax collection from this source, helped dampen the loss of local sales taxes.
Town staff was able to secure more than $250,000 in CARES Act funding (Coronavirus Relief Fund) to help support local businesses during the challenging times. They also assisted them with the paperwork associated with federal grants and loans.
As the spread of the virus increased, and with it the loss of travel options and normal recreational activities, Lyons parks quickly became a popular destination. Normally crowded on summer weekends, Lyons parks on weekdays became like weekends, and weekends became like holidays. Thousands of visitors soon overwhelmed Lyons parks. The Town hired outside security firms and extra duty sheriff’s officers to assist with the masses of people. The facilities became overrun with visitors, trash, and the inability to maintain crowd sizes. By July, we had to close our main parks to uphold the State and Boulder County public health orders. These closures resulted in a loss of parking revenue in the Parks Fund. Camping services were able to be maintained and supported.
As if a pandemic was not enough, the summer was also filled with high-fire danger and wildfires raging within miles of Lyons. The Cal-Wood Fire from the south and west, and the East Troublesome fire from the north, resulted in Lyons residents being on pre-evacuation notice for several days. Residents and visitors from Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park evacuated on Highway 36 through Lyons during the most dangerous hours. This fire season certainly highlighted the need to address drought concerns and wildfire danger to our community.
Several significant projects made progress in 2020, including the approval of the Summit Housing Group’s plans for 40 affordable housing units in Lyons Valley Park, the acceptance of Lake McIntosh water into the Town’s water portfolio through an agreement with Longmont, continued negotiations with Honeywell, Inc. regarding our wastewater plant construction and operation, as well as progress toward the development of the eastern corridor property by Think Generator.
Flood recovery from the 2013 Front Range Flood was in full gear in 2020 with the completion of several large projects including Bohn Park Phase II, the sewer extension to the eastern corridor, St. Vrain Creek bank stabilization, High Street stormwater improvements and the completion of the Parks and Public Works facilities. Flood recovery was planned to come to an end in 2020 (except for the 2nd Avenue bridge and 4th Avenue pedestrian bridge replacements). The grants that funded the staff were ending as well, so staffing patterns in this area resulted in the loss of two positions. Since that time, the Town has been able to negotiate additional grants for flood recovery through CDBG-DR, and minimal staffing will continue through 2021 with the assistance of DOLA.
Town staffing patterns were adjusted with the pandemic as well. The Town did not fill positions that were vacant at the time of the crisis, staff took on extra duties, and the Board voted to cut the planning staff by $50,000.
Since the height of our recovery efforts, the Town’s workforce has gone from a high of 48 full-time equivalents down to 22 full-time equivalents at the end of 2020. This has taken both an emotional and workload toll on the remaining staff. Many departments now consist of one or two people to carry out a myriad of duties expected from a full-service community. The administration adjusted the Table of Organization to accommodate the new staffing levels and streamline services.
Despite a pandemic, a newly elected Board, a reduction in staff and budget, and a town hall closure, the Town of Lyons continues to thrive and operate as a full-service community. 2020 was unlike any other year, yet so similar. A dedicated Board of Trustees, staff and volunteers understand that it takes all of us working toward the same goals and vision to create this great little community we call Lyons.
…………..Victoria Simonsen, Town Administrator